Screaming Eagles is a 1956 black-and-white World War II film directed by Charles F. Haas, released by Allied Artists, and starring Tom Tryon, Jan Merlin, and was the film debut of French Miss Universe 1954 runner up Jacqueline Beer.
The story is set during the night of the Normandy Invasion where the 101st Airborne Division jumps into France. The title of the film refers to the nickname of the Division, based on its shoulder sleeve insignia.
Prior to the Normandy landings, former Merchant Marines Mason (Tom Tryon) and Corliss (Martin Milner) are among three new recruits that are assigned to the 1st Platoon, “D” Company, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, the other being Talbot (Ralph Votrian). Mason gets off on the wrong foot with certain members of the platoon, mainly Sergeant Forrest (Pat Conway) and Corporal Dreef (Paul Burke). Mason gets drunk as he reads a Dear John letter from his girlfriend back home. The platoon’s passes into town are cancelled due to a stand-by for the invasion and are restricted to barracks. When the platoon returns to the barracks, they find it destroyed by a drunken Mason. Platoon Leader Lieutenant Pauling (Jan Merlin) decides to keep Mason in the platoon and give him a chance, despite his behaviour. Lieutenant Pauling talks to the platoon about Mason’s behaviour and Corliss speaks positively about him. The men decide to take a chance on him, including Grimes (Alvy Moore), Dubrowski (Joe di Reda), and Foley (Paul Smith).
The 502nd find themselves boarding troop planes that will be flying over Normandy, marking the beginning of the Normandy Invasion. Peterson (Robert Dix) begins to suffer from air sickness as a result of forgetting to take his air sickness pills. Sergeant Forrest is the jumpmaster for the platoon’s plane and he gives directions on what to do when preparing to jump and what to do on the ground. The platoon is tasked to set up roadblocks and hold a bridge along the Douve, with their drop zone being a mile beyond 2nd Battalion’s. Only seconds after the planes fly over the coast the Germans man anti-aircraft cannons and aim them towards the formation of planes. Peterson is killed when flak hits the platoon’s plane.
After the men jump out of the aircraft they realise that they did not land in their assigned drop zone but create a rallying point. The platoon heads out and Lieutenant Pauling gives out the order to not engage the enemy single-handedly. The men decide to split up into three groups and they scout the area. Mason sees a German sentry aiming his rifle at Corporal Dreef and kills the sentry, which results in a firefight that ends with Corporal Dreef getting killed. Not having seen what Mason did, the others blame him for a hotheaded stunt. After the platoon meets back at their rallying point, the platoon is outraged when Dubrowski tells them what happened. A German soldier fires at Lieutenant Pauling, the bullet flash burning him. Sergeant Forrest selects Mason to take care of Lieutenant Pauling, who is now suffering from blindness.
The platoon decides to attack a German-infested farmhouse later that morning, resulting in the deaths of Lambert (Mark Damon), Hernandez (Robert Blake), and Nolan (Wayne Taylor). After the firefight, the platoon raids the house, finding a German soldier by the name of Hans Schacht (Robert Boon) holding a French girl named Marianne (Jacqueline Beer) hostage. Hans is taken prisoner and Marianne volunteers to aid Lieutenant Pauling. Hans informs the platoon that there are 300 German soldiers between them and the Douve.
The platoon hijacks a German truck and forces the driver to take them to a tavern that is being used as a German headquarters. At gunpoint, Hans telephones false orders that draw German troops away from their positions. But then he seizes a chance to telephone again so the Germans can hear the platoon chattering in English. A truckload of Germans raid the tavern. Hans is killed by friendly fire. Talbot, Foley, Smith (Edward G. Robinson Jr.), and Torren (Robert Roark) are killed while Mason is wounded in his arm.
The seven surviving members of the party (Mason, Lieutenant Pauling, Marianne, Corliss, Sergeant Forrest, Grimes, and Dubrowski) escape by truck. By midday the party links up with the rest of “D” Company at the very bridge that they were supposed to hold. Lieutenant Pauling bids a farewell to Marianne before he and Mason are driven to a field hospital.
- Tom Tryon as Private Mason.
- Jan Merlin as Lieutenant Pauling.
- Jacqueline Beer as Marianne.
- Alvy Moore as Private Grimes.
- Martin Milner as Private Corliss.
- Joe di Reda as Private Dubrowski.
- Mark Damon as Private Lambert.
- Paul Burke as Corporal Dreef.
- Pat Conway as Sergeant Forrest.
- Edward G. Robinson Jr. as Private Smith.
- Robert Blake as Private Hernandez.
- Robert Boon as Hans Schacht.
- Ralph Votrian as Private Talbot.
- Paul Smith as Pvrivate Foley.
- Robert Roark as Private Torren.
- Robert Dix as Private Peterson.
- Wayne Taylor as Private Nolan
Parts of the film were filmed at Fort Benning, Georgia. The technical advisers were Richard Haynes Case, a D-Day veteran of the 101st and Werner Klingler, a German film director who also had a role in the film. Case had also acted as an adviser to The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit in the same year.
Jan Merlin recalled that originally he was supposed to play Private Mason due to his reputation for playing villains. As his character was to continually carry the blinded Lieutenant who was to have been played by the much taller Tom Tryon, the two agreed to switch their roles to make things easier. As Tryon usually played heroes he welcomed the change in roles.
- The uniforms and equipment the U.S. paratroopers wear in the film are fairly realistic for the D-Day period, including the white “card suit” markings the 101st Airborne Division used on the sides of their helmets to identify sub-units in the Division.
- The paratrooper’s helmets in the film carry the heart suit of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment.
- Most German vehicles are actually US Army vehicles painted up with German markings.
- The German truck that the American soldiers steal is a Dodge Weapons Carrier, the background German armoured vehicles are US M13 halftracks and the German command car is a Willys T-14 6X6 (a US Jeep with six wheels, very rare!).
- In the opening title credits of the paratroopers jumping two of the troopers seem to be tangled in each other’s parachutes.
- They show this not once but twice!
Production & Filming Details
- Charles F. Haas.
- Samuel Bischoff … producer.
- David Diamond … producer.
- David Lang … (screenplay).
- Robert Presnell Jr. … (screenplay).
- Virginia Kellogg … (story).
- Harry Sukman.
- Harry Neumann … director of photography.
- Robert S. Eisen.
- Bischoff-Diamond Corporation.
- Allied Artists Pictures (1956) (USA) (theatrical).
- Associated British-Pathé (1956) (UK) (theatrical).
- International Film Distributors (1956) (Canada) (theatrical).
- Wivefilm (1956) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Warner Home Video (2015) (USA) (DVD) (dvdr).
- City Film N.V. (1957) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Release Date: 27 May 1956 (US).
- Running Time: 79 minutes.
- Rating: A.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.